Board decides against independent review


Drew Lawson

Dr. David Syphers, author of the recent ad hoc faculty report concerning athletics, presents his findings at the Feb. 27 board of trustees meeting.

By Aaron Hutchinson, Reporter

EWU’s board of trustees decided against an independent review of Athletic Department funding Feb. 28, despite a faculty committee report highly critical of the amount of money the university spends on athletics.

Dr. David Syphers chaired the faculty committee and presented their report about Athletic Department funding to a standing room only crowd at the board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 27. The room included coaches, faculty, administrators and students, many of whom came only to see the presentation.

When done, Syphers received a large round of applause from his supporters. The board and EWU President Mary Cullinan did not ask any questions and sought to move on quickly to the next topic, an action delayed by the applause.

“I heard from a number of students and faculty after the presentation that they thought I had made a compelling case,” said Syphers. “I was disappointed that the board of trustees asked no questions. It indicated that they were not engaged in the issue … That was very disappointing.”

“I was disappointed that the board of trustees asked no questions. It indicated that they were not engaged in the issue” –Dr. David Syphers, EWU Physics professor and Dean

Syphers’s report, titled, “Eastern and Athletics,” was composed by himself and faculty members Dr. Anthony Flinn (English), Dr. David Bunting (Economics) and Dr. Robert Dean (History) on their own initiative. It focuses on the ballooning cost of athletics at EWU while the university is facing a $3.6 million budget shortfall, which has caused reorganization and layoffs. The report explores alternatives for athletics, including moving to a lower division or even dropping NCAA athletics. These are moves the committee believes would save the university anywhere between $2-$14 million annually. The report urged the Board to approve an unbiased external review of athletic spending.

The only comment Feb. 27 from the board concerning the report came before the presentation when Chair Vicki Wilson told the assembled crowd that the board had not commissioned the report and were only giving Syphers this time out of respect for the faculty, a comment that co-author Flinn later voiced his objection to. He also characterized the board’s attitude as “defiant.”

“I very much appreciated that the board invited us to present on our athletics report,” said Syphers, who was more cautious in his interpretation of Wilson’s comment. “I can only conjecture that Chair Wilson felt she needed to clarify the provenance of the report for those who were unfamiliar with its background.”

Malati Powell
EWU football players take the field. A faculty organization report presented seven possible alternative models for athletics, one of which was eliminating football.

While the board did not discuss the presentation or report further on Thursday, the issue took the majority of the time during the public comments session of Friday’s meeting. Students, faculty, and community members all voiced opinions. Community member and Cheney City Administrator Mark Schuller spoke in defense of athletics and the positive impact that EWU athletics has on the community.

“A city like Cheney has a hard time with revenue,” said Schuller, who is married to EWU women’s basketball coach Wendy Schuller, expounding on his comments after the meeting. “We don’t have the big box stores and car dealerships where people make large purchases that drive sales tax revenue. We really rely on EWU events, like football games, to bring people into the town, people who spend money here and provide the funding needed for public safety services. Those are some of the hidden benefits that I think people needed to know about.”

Another commenter questioned whether the faculty committee was diverse or knowledgable enough to author such a report. Many of the comments from students and faculty, however, expressed concerns about the faculty report and the cuts that their departments might have to endure due to Athletic Department funding.

In the end, none of the feedback, positive or negative, was considered by the board or Cullinan.

“As always, all of us are committed to asking questions and hearing feedback from all areas and groups to understand and guide our university’s future,” Vice Chair Kim Pearman-Gillman read from a prepared statement immediately after she closed the public comments. “At this time, President Cullinan and the board of trustees will not be moving forward with an independent review of athletics.”

“All of us are committed to asking questions and hearing feedback from all areas and groups to understand and guide our university’s future.” -Kim Pearman-Gillman,Vice Chair

The board did not completely close the topic, however, promising in the statement to continue reviewing the athletics budget as they are obligated to do by law and to listen to “the President’s newly established Student Success Academic Committee, and all new and innovative ideas that the faculty have.”

Dr. Syphers, though disappointed that the board didn’t want to grant an external review, is happy the report has started something.

“The report is certainly spurring a conversation among faculty and among students,” he said. “After the BOT meeting, Faculty Organization President Kelly Evans, Faculty Organization Legislative Liaison Sam Ligon, and I all went to talk to the ASEWU. They and the audience present were interested in setting up open forums where we could present our findings directly to students and others in the campus community and we could get feedback.”

However, Syphers warns that ignoring athletic funding and pushing it to the future won’t make the problem go away and isn’t doing EWU any good.

“This issue is not going away,” he said. “Cuts continue to academic programs and have occurred elsewhere around the university. Every area of the university, from advising to academic programs, is routinely under critical examination about how much money we spend on it, and what return we’re getting from that … As long as athletics remains exempt from this critical analysis, the faculty and hopefully the students will vociferously argue that this isn’t right, and it should be examined.” •